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Pro cyclist-led lights campaign, endorsed by Tadej Pogačar, “feeds into victim-blaming culture”, says road safety expert

The ‘Be Bright Wear a Light’ campaign aims to reduce cyclist fatalities and injuries on the road by “empowering visibility behaviour”

A professional cyclist-led campaign to encourage people on bikes to use lights at all times “feeds into a victim-blaming culture” which places the onus for safety onto the most vulnerable road users, according to a leading road safety campaigner.

The ‘Be Bright Wear a Light’ campaign, launched this week by pro rider Rachel Neylan and endorsed by two-time Tour de France winner Tadej Pogačar and former world champion Elisa Balsamo, has been described by Dr Robert Davis, the chair of the chair of the Road Danger Reduction Forum, as “well-intentioned” but lacking awareness of “what’s required to not being hit by drivers”.

The brainchild of Cofidis rider Neylan, the campaign aims to help cyclists “understand that increased visibility while riding your bike on the road can actually save your life”, and encourages them to change their behaviour and “begin using front and back lights for every ride at all times of the day”.

Earlier this week, the 40-year-old told Cycling Weekly that she felt a “real compulsion” to act after several current and retired pros were killed while riding their bikes in recent months.

> Up-and coming Spanish cyclist killed by hit-and-run lorry driver

In November, the recently-retired Italian classics star Davide Rebellin was killed after being struck by a hit-and-run lorry driver, while just last week 18-year-old Spanish neo-pro Estela Domínguez tragically suffered the same fate while training on the outskirts of Salamanca.

“With the recent year, the string of events, multiple tragedies that we’ve had among the cycling community, I just felt a real compulsion to do something about it,” the 40-year-old said.

“Every time a cyclist gets killed, it’s a knife to the stomach. I can’t watch it happen anymore. I’ve been using lights consistently for the last few years, and I know how much it really makes a difference.”

However, the Australian also noted that she recognises that lights are “not a one-step solution to the entire problem”.

“But the reality is that the roads are getting busier,” she said. “Cities and regional towns are getting busier, every single place where cyclists go, even if it used to be less populated by cars. Especially since Covid we’re seeing a lot more travel, and the roads aren’t safe for cyclists anymore.”

Neylan continued: “When you start using lights, you see that cars give you so much more passing space and you avoid near misses. It can make a huge difference from the front and back. If we can save one life, that’s a win.

“As a community we’ve been through enough tragedy now and it’s time to do something. We’re not saying this is a cure, there are obviously enormous other aspects to this problem, but this is one thing we can control, our own visibility.”

Neylan’s attempt to instil a “culture shift” within the cycling community to use lights at all times has so far been endorsed by a raft of current stars, including double Tour winner Pogačar, Italian champion Balsamo, and 2021 Milan-San Remo winner Jasper Stuyven.

“This is the best safety measure I can take. For the amount of time I spend on the road and minimal investment it takes to use a light it’s a logical part of my daily training now,” Pogačar is quoted as saying on the campaign’s social media channels.

“It feeds into the victim-blaming culture”

However, despite the high-profile endorsements, the campaign has come in for criticism from some cyclists who believe that simply using lights will prove of little consequence in the face of dangerous or distracted drivers.

One of those cyclists, safe cycling campaigner Dr Robert Davis, has described Be Bright Wear a Light’s message as “victim blaming” and evidence of how “racing cyclists can get things exactly wrong” when it comes to everyday cycling and road safety.

Speaking to road.cc, Dr Davis said: “The evidence for drivers being less likely to hit cyclists (or pedestrians) when they wear hi-vis is either minimal or entirely absent. It’s even absent for lights at night with cyclists, although I wouldn’t argue with you that you shouldn’t have them at night. 

“There is certainly no evidence for daytime lights working for cyclists, and comments by what one cyclist (who is already committed to using them) ‘feels’ does not constitute proper evidence.”

> Near Miss of the Day 850: "Lights, reflectors and hi-vis — if they ain't looking they won't see you"

He continued: “Broadly speaking, we have an ‘arms race’ with the most vulnerable and least dangerous to others (walkers and cyclists) being expected to make up for the (illegal) errors of drivers not watching out, which the more vulnerable will not win.

“The problem is that those who take part in such campaigns don’t see that it feeds into the victim-blaming culture which causes the problem in the first place.

“So, we have a major problem with ‘SMIDSY’ [‘Sorry Mate, I Didn't See You’], as Cycling UK have correctly called it – an attitude that if a driver doesn't ‘see’ you because they aren't watching out, it's your fault, and this kind of campaign feeds into it and thereby becomes part of this problem.

“I’m sure that the people behind this campaign don’t want this to happen, but I have to be concerned with the harsh reality of what happens on the roads.

“And people who haven’t familiarised themselves with the ideological anti-cyclist bias of ‘road safety’ ideology won’t understand just how negative this kind of approach is.”

This anti-cyclist bias, Davis has argued in the past, manifests itself in the “red herring” of stressing the importance of culturally-defined safety measures such as lights, which he claims “can act as a diversion from what needs to be done for real road safety”.

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That the campaign stems from professional riders, whose experience of riding their bike can sometimes be worlds apart from the average commuter cyclist, only exacerbates this problem, Davis argues.

“Racing cyclists are often very bad judges of what’s good for cyclists (especially ‘ordinary’ everyday utility cyclists) from Jacques Anquetil onwards,” he says.

“If they’re committed to supporting everyday cycling and prepared to consider all the evidence they can change – the perfect example being Chris Boardman, to some extent Sarah Storey, and hopefully Ed Clancy.

“I’m afraid Pogačar is wonderful as a racing cyclist, and the campaigners are no doubt well intentioned, but they don’t get it when it comes to what’s required to not being hit by drivers.

“And no, before you suggest that ‘other measures can be used as well’, this kind of approach reinforces victim blaming and impedes any positive measures, of which there are few if any.”

> Police ask pedestrians to wear hi-vis following spate of road deaths in Scotland 

Davis’ comments come in the same week that Police Scotland found itself at the centre of its own victim-blaming row after a chief inspector urged pedestrians to wear “reflective or fluorescent” clothing following the deaths of six pedestrians on the country’s roads in just 13 days.

Ch Insp Lorraine Napier argued that in light of the incidents, officers should encourage all road users to keep safe, first asking pedestrians to stay visible. And in response to a request for comment from road.cc, Police Scotland confirmed the force had “nothing to add”.

“Pedestrians are considered vulnerable road users and, in winter, particularly when it is dark, pedestrians should wear reflective or fluorescent clothing,” she said.

“I would also urge pedestrians to be mindful of their surroundings and to ensure they are not putting themselves at risk.”

Napier’s comments prompted several accusations of victim blaming, with one Twitter user asking: “How have we got to a point where pedestrians are being advised to wear reflective or fluorescent clothes, in case they need to cross a road?”

Ryan joined road.cc in December 2021 and since then has kept the site’s readers and listeners informed and enthralled (well at least occasionally) on news, the live blog, and the road.cc Podcast. After boarding a wrong bus at the world championships and ruining a good pair of jeans at the cyclocross, he now serves as road.cc’s senior news writer. Before his foray into cycling journalism, he wallowed in the equally pitiless world of academia, where he wrote a book about Victorian politics and droned on about cycling and bikes to classes of bored students (while taking every chance he could get to talk about cycling in print or on the radio). He can be found riding his bike very slowly around the narrow, scenic country lanes of Co. Down.

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163 comments

Avatar
marmotte27 replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
1 like

You've been told now many times what the problem is with these campaigns and you still feign to not understand. I must conclude that like a few others you're only here for the sake of the argument, in short, you're a troll.

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NotNigel replied to marmotte27 | 1 year ago
0 likes

Someone needs to chill on weekend mornings, have a lie in and forget about the troubles.

Unless you're not in the UK, and you've just had a couple of crappy days at work.

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AidanR replied to marmotte27 | 1 year ago
0 likes
marmotte27 wrote:

You've been told now many times what the problem is with these campaigns and you still feign to not understand. I must conclude that like a few others you're only here for the sake of the argument, in short, you're a troll.

I've made my position quite clear - if this was a government campaign aimed broadly at road users that was telling cyclists it's their responsibility to use lights at all times, I could see Dr Davis point about "victim blaming". But it's not - it's a social media campaign using pro cyclists that the average road user has never heard of, aiming their message at other cyclists.

It's a nuanced position. You have every right to disagree with me. But don't accuse me of being a troll because you do.

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marmotte27 replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
1 like

Sorry as was pointed out to you above it IS aimed at ALL cyclists ALL the time.
As to your general attitude in this debate, I have replied above in this discussion. It is not constructive.

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AidanR replied to marmotte27 | 1 year ago
0 likes

Clearly I have failed to get my point across. I know it's a message to cyclists. That's not the distinction I'm drawing. I appreciate that if this was a broad campaign marketed at all road users then there is a risk that drivers could use the fact that a cyclist didn't have lights as a mitigating factor to excuse poor/dangerous driving. But this isn't a broad campaign marketed at all road users - it's a social media campaign marketed at cyclists.

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Backladder replied to AidanR | 1 year ago
5 likes
AidanR wrote:

Clearly I have failed to get my point across. I know it's a message to cyclists. That's not the distinction I'm drawing. I appreciate that if this was a broad campaign marketed at all road users then there is a risk that drivers could use the fact that a cyclist didn't have lights as a mitigating factor to excuse poor/dangerous driving. But this isn't a broad campaign marketed at all road users - it's a social media campaign marketed at cyclists.

Until an insurance company lawyer sees it and decides it is a good argument for damages mitigation. It was specifically highlighted to you earlier in the thread that it is aimed at ALL cyclists ALL the time.

Nobody is asking you not to use whatever you want to feel safe when riding, we're just asking you to not make the situation worse for everyone else, 

Avatar
Rik Mayals unde... | 1 year ago
13 likes

I always use lights, even during the day. The amount of times I've been close passed or almost knocked off by SMIDSYs is incredible. I even had one almost hit me when he pulled out in front of me, I remonstrated with him at the next set of traffic lights. He claimed not to have seen me, but kept asking me to turn my handlebars away from him as the flashing light was hurting his eyes.

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I love my bike replied to Rik Mayals underpants | 1 year ago
4 likes

So, your flashing front light didn't get the driver's non attention? Hmm, that's not actually selling their use.

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Rik Mayals unde... replied to I love my bike | 1 year ago
1 like

Of course he saw me! He was just too bloody impatient to wait a handful of seconds. He couldn't flick me the bird as he had to stop at the lights, and for all he knew I could have been a raving maniac so he had to come up with some excuse.

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ktache | 1 year ago
2 likes

I don't like to think how close I'd be getting passed if I wasn't running three rear lights.

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marmotte27 replied to ktache | 1 year ago
3 likes

And I'm sure a helmet saved your life once, too.

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Boopop | 1 year ago
4 likes

I'd assumed that this was just aimed at other road cyclists, then I read the article. If that were the case it would make some sense - driver education only goes so far and campaigning for and expecting a segregated cycle lane alongside all the roads your average club ride is likely to frequent is probably wasted effort.

Aimed at all cyclists though? Pull the other one. Cyclists who are concerned with their safety when carrying out utility rides (and utility cyclists have got to be the majority of bike riders worldwide, surely) would be much better served by these people campaigning for proper infrastructure and enforcement against bad drivers.

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chrisonabike replied to Boopop | 1 year ago
3 likes

Yep - and I was glad that they'd quoted the RDRF chair at length.  They seem to have a good evidence-based approach, are positive about fixing things for vulnerable road users (as opposed to just moving them out of the way / discouraging them) and are quite clear on where the danger arises indeed what is causing the deaths.

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